Splatsin–TRU Business Development Project
The Splatsin–TRU business development project supports employment readiness, skills and experience acquisition, and entrepreneurship ventures for Splatsin First Nation members who aspire to offer Indigenous tourism opportunities to local, national, and international visitors.
Michael Henry, Dean, Bob Gaglardi School of Business and Economics, Thompson Rivers University
Call to Action
From 2008 to 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) investigated and documented the consequences from Canada’s residential school system practices on Indigenous peoples. The TRC published 94 calls to action, including specific calls for the education and business sectors. The specific calls for business schools included providing education and training that improves employment prospects among Indigenous learners.
The school strives to increase collaboration with Indigenous communities and the businesses within to develop educational programs that respond to regional needs. The Splatsin—pronounced “splat-seen”—Nation is one of 17 remaining bands out of an original 32 that make up the Secwépemc—pronounced “she-whep-m”—Nation. They are the southernmost tribe of the Secwépemc Nation and the largest Interior Salish-speaking First Nation in Canada. Splatsin applied for and received a Community Workforce Response Grant (CWRG). The CWRG funds relevant skills training with the end goal of secure and sustainable employment for unemployed or precariously employed British Columbians.
Splatsin requested the school’s support to ensure the training was regionally relevant, and the school strived to work respectfully and collaboratively with the Splatsin Nation to develop programming that was culturally relevant and appropriate. The Splatsin First Nation-TRU Business Development Project provided an opportunity for the school to support the inclusion of Indigenous people in both education and economic environments.
The Splatsin-TRU Business Development Project was offered as a series of 21 interactive sessions from March to June 2021. A total of 20 participants—17 women and three men—enrolled. Sessions were facilitated by 10 of the school’s instructors and included topics such as creating a business plan, small business entrepreneurship, new venture creation, marketing, risk analysis/management, legal considerations, reading financial statements, choosing business partners, and hiring.
The project was driven by Splatsin and funded by a joint agreement between the Canadian government and the province of British Columbia to support economic development. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sessions were offered using a combination of face-to-face and virtual formats. On-site sessions were offered at the Splatsin Community Centre and virtual sessions through Zoom. Although some students left the program early for personal reasons, those who completed the program received a certificate of completion.
Participants wrote business plans for a wide range of business ventures. Some common business plan themes were tourism, garments and textiles, food service, and other services such as aesthetics, a healing center, and a youth support center. Participants connected their business plans to Indigenous cultures by incorporating educational storytelling, using traditional materials and natural products, or by including dancing and drumming. TRU instructors offered to remain involved with the participants as they started their new businesses.
One of the major outcomes of the project was the creation of the White Buffalo First Nations Business Development Cooperative, started by five of the participants. The cooperative “seeks to support First Nations, Métis, and Inuit individuals in their goal to create their own businesses, to network knowledge and resources, and to encourage and nurture relationships with other entrepreneurs through association, whether they be developing or developed businesses.” The White Buffalo Cooperative develops relationships “with other businesses and organizations that promote their cultural expression and creativity, health-based products, and those that support good stewardship of the environment—whether they be locally based or are located throughout the world.” The cooperative recently applied for incorporation.
Based on the success of the project, seven more bands are forming a collaboration to apply for funding for a similar project. Other plans include holding a forum on barriers to business development for First Nations.